I recently sat down with Jill Perry, the current course record holder of the Umstead 100-mile race. After running a 16:02 last year she came back this year and was the first woman to ever break 16 hours on the course, running a 15:58. Jill and I spent some time together in the airport on our separate ways home after the race, and I realized I needed to share what a vibrant person and fantastic runner she is, let alone a mother of five.
The first and most obvious question to ask, Jill, is how did you get involved in running? I can always remember running, ever since I was a little girl. I have three brothers and two older ones who dragged me around running with them. A very athletic family. I ran in grade school, high school, full scholarship in college for running…run, run, run….and I still love it.
Were there any particular running figures who you looked up to—famous or not—in your formative years? I admire many, and they are unique in their own way and (that) really has nothing to do with numbers (that is being the fastest out there). I think it is amazing when someone has a disability and doesn’t let that stop them. My coaches that were able to motivate me, I admire them. I admire what drives people to achieve great things—not so much the “great thing” but the motivation behind it. That’s cool.
When did you make the transfer to ultrarunning? I always had a desire to go beyond the breaking point, and for the many marathons that I have done, I never achieved that feeling. Also, I am passionate about the woods, something my father instilled in me. He has passed away, and when I am in the woods it is a special closeness to him that I have. Ultrarunning races, most that is, brings you to beautiful places around you and within you, and I am excited for every new place that I can go. I feel very lucky to be able to do this.
I recently wrote an article talk about how I feel ultras are no more pure than any other sport, rather it is the people who make it a great sport. Your thoughts on that? Dane, you are so right. It is the people. This is the most nonjudgmental sport I have ever seen. Everyone is out there achieving different places within, pushing themselves beyond their own limits, and it is all about the journey. And through that journey, we can smile, give a nod, a helping hand, whatever it may be to bring each other through. I love that. I always ask myself before these races, “Who will be my friend for the day?” and I learn about so many different people and their reasons for doing what they do.. It drives me to keep going.